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Invest in Shared Lives to reap adult care savings, councils urged

Young person with autism and carer Photofusion Rex Features 1

Though adult social care fared better than children’s services in Chancellor George Osborne’s latest spending round, councils know they will have to make significant further savings in support for older and disabled people at a time of rising demand.

Step forward Shared Lives schemes (formerly known as adult placements) to offer a cheaper – and quite possibly better – model of support to residential care, home care or even supported housing for adults with learning disabilities or mental health needs in particular.

Shared Lives could cut annual placement costs for adults with learning disabilites by costs 43% (£26,000) and for adults with mental health needs by 29% (£8,000).

So says a report out today from organisations including Shared Lives Plus, the umbrella body for Shared Lives schemes, its spin-off Community Catalysts, which works to promote small care services, care provider Macintyre and think-tank the RSA.

Shared Lives schemes provide placements for disabled or older people in the homes of paid carers, with whom they are matched. However, they are also quite small in scale compared with home or residential care, and expanding them is quite difficult; for one thing, it requires up-front investment and, for another, there is a lack of a market in independent providers.

Today’s report is designed to demonstrate to councils that expanding Shared Lives provision locally through independent providers would be a worthwhile investment. And it argues that local authorities can go to social investors – people willing to fund projects that provide a social good as well as a financial return – to find that resource. (The lead organisation behind the report is Social Finance, whose mission is to promote social investment).

Calculating the potential savings from switching resource from one model of care to another is notoriously difficult. Today’s report uses the following method, based on work with three local authorities:

  • Selecting clients (on an anonymous basis) with learning disabilities or mental health needs in long-term care who could be supported in a more independent setting;
  • Calculating the current annual spend on each client’s care;
  • Comparing this against the existing local costs of Shared Lives placements, combined with the additional cost of scaling up Shared Lives schemes.

As many placements for people with mental health needs or learning disabilities are spot purchased, savings can be yielded quite quickly from a switch to Shared Lives.

It looks relatively robust though there are some caveats; for one thing, it covers just three local authorities, all of which were in an urban setting. As the report points out, things may be quite different for a rural council. However, it does seem to suggest that there is potential.

As a response to the report, the partners behind it are setting up The Shared Lives Incubator, an organisation designed to harness capital from social investors to invest in expanding Shared Lives and provide business support to new schemes. I imagine commissioners will be hearing from the incubator shortly.

Picture posed by models (Credit: Photofusion/Rex Features)

Mithran Samuel

About Mithran Samuel

Mithran Samuel is adults' editor at Community Care.